I don’t want to wade neck deep into the “craft vs. crafty” debate — I’m not quite finished digesting it all — so I’m trying to not comment too much about this, yet in this instance, I’m going to at least stick my toe into the murky waters of this issue. (Oh, and a hat tip to Evan Benn for tweeting about this.)
Ace Metrix, a company based in nearby Mountain View, has just released their list of the Top Brands and Ads of 2012. Ace Metrix characterizes themselves as “the new standard in television and video analytics.”
They picked the top brand in fifteen different broad categories. The award does not go to the company with the best product, but to the one that had the best advertising last year, that is whoever received the “highest average Ace Score for their body of work in 2012.” This is best illustrated by reviewing some of the other category “winners.” For example, Olive Garden won for restaurants, so that should tell you something.
In the category “Beverages — Alcoholic” the winner was Blue Moon. You can even view the five Blue Moon commercials that got the highest scores. Now, I like Blue Moon. It’s not a bad beer. It may not be my favorite wit, but unlike many other beers made by big companies, I will drink it if my choices are limited. I know its creator, Keith Villa (who also stars in the commercials), and I’ve judged with him at GABF several times. It’s a great entry level beer, and has been phenomenally successful in that regard and also in marketing itself as not being part of Coors, in the same way that Saturn cars did in setting themselves apart from GM.
But that’s the way of the world, at least in our peculiar pro-corporate brand of capitalism. In brewing, I have to say, things are a lot more transparent than in many other industries. Take a look at this Geekologie chart of Parent Companies and their Subsidiary Brands to get an idea of how literally hundreds of brands are owned by just ten corporations. And I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that most people weren’t aware of more than a few of those relationships, believing many of those brands to be independent or small companies, if they even cared at all.
Maybe it’s because in the world of beer geekdom we pay so much more attention, but most of the stealth brands like Blue Moon are open secrets. They may not talk about who owns the brands, but the information is out there and available if you bother to look. The thing is, most people don’t. If they like it, they drink it, and they buy it. Period.
Where the trouble comes in, I think, is when doing so infringes on another’s business ethos, or whatever. When small specialty breweries first started popping up, the big guys were initially somewhat helpful but as they began eating into their market share, things started to change. Over the years we’ve seen many attempts, with varying degrees of success, to copy or acquire anything that’s successful. In a sense it’s human nature, or certainly business nature. Do you think it’s an accident that after any successful film or television series, similar shows in the same genre proliferate with alarming alacrity?
But back to the Ace Metrix and their top brands of 2012. In their press release, in a section entitled “Brands of the Year Illuminate Many Notable Themes,” there’s this headline: “Craft Beer and Juice Beat Out Big Beer and Soda Brands.” Here’s the relevant bits about beer:
A changing of the guard was not only seen in the technology category, but also in the beverage category in which Blue Moon usurped the top spot from ‘big beer,’ and Ocean Spray ousted Coca-Cola from the winner’s platform. … Blue Moon swept the Alcoholic Beverage Category with an average Ace Score of 538, beating out big beer brands like Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light, all of which failed to even make the Watch List this year, a stark comparison to 2011.
See the problem? How can Blue Moon have usurped anything from “big beer” when it really is a big beer. And that’s why the Brewers Association had to come out with its recent controversial statement, because even professional business analysts don’t realize who owns what, so what chance do consumers have?
I’m going to steer clear of the BA’s statement itself, at least for now, except to say that I thought the excellent rebuttal by August Schell was heart-wrenching and perfectly illustrated the problems of such statements and definitions. Because those characterizations only matter internally, among insiders and the businesses and professionals working in those industries. And while once upon a time those inner workings remained … well, internal … today almost everything is out in the open, on the internet, and often what might better be private insider discussions become full-blown public debates. Sometimes, it’s simply exhausting.
It’s a bit like beer styles themselves. They only really matter in very rarified situations, like competition judging. In the real world, they matter very little. It’s the same with trying to define beer, or craft beer, or whatever we’re calling it now. I completely understand why the BA needs to define craft beer, because their mission is to promote craft beer. You have to know exactly what and who it is you’re promoting in order to do your job. I get that. From private discussions I had a few years ago with people who were involved in crafting the newer definition over about a year’s time, it was apparently a very contentious process and was extremely difficult because with every changed word, someone was excluded or someone you didn’t think belonged remained. It reminds me a little of a famous quip made by a Supreme Court justice in Jacobellis v. Ohio when, in trying to define hardcore pornography and create an obscenity threshold, Justice Potter Stewart wrote that it was difficult to define, but that “I know it when I see it.”
And that’s the problem, because how you define craft beer is, and should be, different things to different people, with varying priorities and concerns. It may be one thing to the BA, but something else entirely for an average consumer and yet again something more stringent to a hardcore beer geek. The thing is, everybody’s both right and wrong on this one, at least as I see it. When you’re talking about personal preference, it’s ultimately just that: personal. Like pornography or even religion, whatever you believe is correct, for you. Whatever you choose to drink is right for you. I may disagree with your choice, but that’s okay. Happily, they come in these little 12, 16 or 22 oz. bottles and cans, or can be poured into single-serving sizes of glassware, so that we can all just drink what we want, definitions be damned.